Overall rating: 4/5
This Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S Coupé SUV encapsulates a lot of firsts; Stuttgart's long-awaited answer to the BMW X6, it's the first Merc of its distinctive crossover type; it is the first use of the new GLE nameplate; and it's the first time we've ever encountered anything so big and powerful that's so utterly benign to drive.
In the Metal:
Whether you like the Mercedes GLE Coupé or abhor it is not going to come down to the actual visual appearance of the thing. It seems many folk, diehard car enthusiasts especially, just detest the idea of a coupé SUV, no matter how well a car company's design department can execute the formula. For what it's worth, then, we'll say that we do prefer the GLE Coupé to the only other comparable machine, BMW's X6. There's more elegance about the rear-end treatment and while it's an imposing vehicle, it's not offensively gargantuan. The full-fat AMG model (there's a GLE 450 in some markets, with a biturbo V6) only ramps up the muscularity factor with its gaping lower front airdam, colossal 22-inch alloys and the trademark quad pipes at the back. The styling works much better in the metal as opposed to pictures, but for all the above we're sure there are some of you out there who'll think we've lost our marbles for saying we like the look of it.
The interior is better still, as Merc cabins can still be hit-or-miss in terms of aesthetics these days. The GLE makes do with the column-mounted shift and too many levers to the left of the wheel, but the integration of Mercedes' infotainment screen is about the best yet, the clear display no longer looking like a stuck-on afterthought. Everything else is shot through with reassuringly high-class quality, the AMG model's part-Alcantara, paddle shift-shod steering wheel being a particularly tactile delight. It's almost needless to say but we must state that the Coupé sacrifices both rear seat space and boot usability to its more prosaic was-ML-now-is-GLE sibling; that's to be expected, of course, yet there's a very high loading lip for the cargo area and once you're in the back seats, which are just about roomy enough for six-footers, you're left in a dark space if there's no panoramic roof on the spec list.
To elicit such astonishing performance data as 0-100km/h in 4.2 seconds and an optional, limited top speed of 280km/h (with the AMG Performance Pack; it's 250km/h otherwise) from something that tips the scales at 2,350kg, you need power. Lots of it. Luckily, Affalterbach seems to have unlimited resources of the stuff, as the Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S Coupé delivers faintly scandalous outputs of 585hp at 5,500rpm and 760Nm from 1,750rpm right the way out to 5,250rpm. Those figures are usefully 10hp and 10Nm ahead of the BMW X6 M, although the Munich machine matches the Merc for acceleration and top speed - and beats it on fuel economy and emissions.
Still, there is little need to complain about the GLE's astonishing straight-line urge. It piles on speed with utter disdain for any air stupid enough to get in its way, on one stretch of Autobahn hauling up to near its 250km/h limiter with little effort. But therein lies the rub; it strangely doesn't feel neck-snapping quick when you fully open the taps. The AMG seems to smooth out the power delivery into one liquid surge, making it deceptive in terms of outright pace. That's not necessarily a criticism, but if you're expecting visceral blood and thunder stuff, its refined grunt might be a mild disappointment. The noise is a different matter. AMG is one of the finest purveyors of V8 soundtracks and the 5.5-litre biturbo engine in the GLE Coupé is no exception to this rule; it's fabulous. As are the burbles and pops of the exhaust on overrun or when shifting gear; however, the Range Rover Sport SVR sounds even better still.
The AMG 63 S runs on 285/40 ZR22 front, 325/35 ZR22 rear tyres, but you wouldn't know it from either the ride characteristics or the road noise. For such a performance-oriented machine, the Mercedes-AMG GLE Coupé rides beautifully. That's because it has AMG Ride Control with Airmatic self-levelling suspension as standard, which allows it to be far more compliant than you could ever imagine when looking at those gigantic alloys. It also suppresses wind noise brilliantly and the V8 does quieten down a bit if you treat the throttle delicately, although trying to move surreptitiously through a village is next to impossible, thanks to the naughty sounding exhausts.
In terms of handling, it's very, very good, if not sublime. The GLE 63 S feels very stable, even when undertaking high-speed direction changes (which normally show up high-performance SUVs most of all), and the steering is well weighted and communicative. But there is a touch more lean than we were reckoning on, while the brakes - admittedly epic and with good, clean pedal progression - still require plenty of space to haul the hard-charging coupé SUV down from speed. That's the weight of the machine coming to the fore and so, while it's impressive, the Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S Coupé never quite feels as much of a sports car as its makers believe it is.
What you get for your Money:
In other markets, the Coupé is a few grand more than its equivalent GLE model (formerly the ML, or M-Class), and as the ML 63 AMG was €163,145 in the latest price lists, you can budget on the 63 S being in the €170,000 ballpark. It does come well-specified for that money, with a raft of safety systems (Adaptive Brake, Attention Assist, Collision Prevention Assist Plus, Pre-Safe, Crosswind Assist and more), an automated tailgate, LED Intelligent Lights, a reversing camera and the Active Curve System among the highlights. Options include a Bang & Olufsen surround sound system, Distronic Plus cruise control, a carbon fibre engine cover and climate front seats. So of course the price can be pushed ever closer to €200,000.
If it does retail at around €170,000, it will be usefully cheaper than the X6 M (€172,240) or the Range Rover Sport SVR (c.€180,000).
It took a while coming, but now the Mercedes GLE Coupé is here, the BMW X6 will no longer get things all its own way. It's not the absolutely sharpest tool in the box and we prefer the regular GLE, which feels like a more authentic SUV. Nonetheless, in this show-stopping AMG trim it's an appealing machine that will entertain on first acquaintance.